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Indians held in US college-visa sting, hundreds face deportation

  • In United States
  • 00:00, 7 Apr
  • By Rashmi Shethia

Newark: US authorities announced the arrest of 10 people from India and 11 from China for alleged visa fraud involving college admission and likely deportation of hundreds of Indian students. The accused used a phony university in New Jersey to grant certification needed for legitimate student and work visas but were not aware it was run by federal agents investigating them. Authorities said defendants helped over 1,000 foreign students stay in the US legally with papers provided to them from this phony institution, University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ) with the address of an office building in Cranford, N.J.

The accused are charged with visa fraud and making false statements, each carries a sentence of five years, and H-1B visa fraud and harboring aliens, each carrying 10 years. Authorities are cancelling non-immigrant student visas of foreign nationals who benefitted from the racket, and, if applicable, arrest them and start deportation proceedings against them.

The Indian Embassy in Washington is in touch with the US government about Indians among these students — around 370 and 380 according to official sources — seeking fair treatment for them. The embassy has requested the US government to not arrest or deport them. And given them a chance, instead, to keep their student visa by transferring to another university.

The embassy is also awaiting consular access to those among the arrested who hold Indian passports — going by their names, 10 of them seemed to be Indian or of Indian descent. Students from India have been found enrolled in vast numbers in almost every fake university busted in recent years — Tri-Valley in 2011 and University of Northern Virginia in 2013. Late 2015, US authorities deported hundreds of Indian students headed for two California universities from the airport itself, San Francisco, and in some cases from their stop-overs.

Most of these universities operate as fronts from pay-to-stay operations, selling I-20s —“Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant (F-1) Student Status - for Academic and Language Students — needed to get a student F-1 visa.

This time agents of Homeland Security Investigations (a wing of the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration) started one as part of a sting operation. Set up in 2013, UNNJ had no instructors or educators, no curriculum, and conducted no classes or education activities, said a statement from the office of US attorney for New Jersey.

The university, which “operated solely as a storefront location with small offices staffed by federal agents posing as school administrators”, could issue I-20s, however. That brought them the defendants, recruiting companies, brokers and business entities located from all over the country — New Jersey, California, Illinois, New York, and Virginia.

Everyone involved — recruiting agents and their clients, mostly from India and China — knew UNNJ was a phony university, as perhaps like the others they had heard of. Only, this one was being run by undercover federal agents. Defendants are charged with producing false documents to facilitate their clients’ enrolment at UNNJ and also arrange for H-1B visas meant for highly skilled foreign workers. Beneficiaries were mostly those already in the US on valid visas. Enrolment and work permit through UNNJ allowed them to continue staying, legally but through illegal means.

On the surface, UNNJ seemed legitimate. It had a website, with a seal featuring the Latin words “Humanus, Scientia, Integritas,” a list of business-oriented degrees offered and a promise of “an exceptional educational experience.” It was so exceptional it did not exist. Instead, the university was a fake, set up by the Homeland Security Department in 2012 as part of a sting operation to ensnare criminals involved in student visa fraud.

The operation resulted in the issuing of arrest warrants for 21 people in the New York metropolitan area, the United States attorney for New Jersey, Paul J. Fishman, and Sarah Saldaña, the director of United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announced at a news conference in Newark.

The people arrested were brokers who knowingly recruited foreign students, mainly from China and India, to an institution that would not have real classes in order to obtain student visas. The brokers, working with people posing as university officials, charged the students fees in a scheme that allowed the students to stay in the country. They also arranged for jobs, and some of these employers were also issued warrants for arrest.

Some brokers received commissions from the undercover officials worth $1,200 to $2,000 on average for each student they recruited, an ICE representative said. As part   of the sting operation, other brokers received kickbacks for placing students in jobs.

Some of those arrested include legal permanent residents and naturalized citizens, said a Homeland Security official who is familiar with the investigation. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because the arrests were continuing. About 1.2 million students are currently in the United States on student visas, a majority of whom are legitimately attending universities, government officials said.